Lunch Time at the Factory

THERE is a something suffocating about a factory. It is not the heat, exactly, or the grind of the machinery, or the lack of air, for yesterday the windows were wide open and at lunch hour the machinery was quiet.

Nevertheless, it was suffocating, — suffocating in a dense, heavy way that seemed to stifle the soul. One felt a crushing sense of weariness, a kind of oppressive inertia. It was as though all the wasting energy in those young bodies, all the longings of those minds, and the tired laughter of those lips about you had been crumbled into fine dust and ground into your heart.

There was Ruth Donovan in the corner, sucking an orange and leaning affectionately against Shorty McMullen. Shorty’s arm was about her waist, and his round, white, pimpled face, close to hers. They were talking and giggling loudly. Vera Hendry and Bessie Hoyt were sound asleep, arms flung out over the sorting table, wisps of frizzed hair caught in the scattered piles of dry-bolts and metal claspings.

By the window Sylva Timmons, Alice Pazanov, and three or four others were discussing a particularly interesting ‘movie spree’ of the night before.

‘Say, you ’d oughter seen Jimmy Quade!’ Sylva was declaiming, ‘maybe he ain’t loose with coin! “Come on!” says he, “I’ll treat the bunch!” he says, an’ he does. Lawd! an’ ain’t he sweet on Bessie! — I seen’em —’

Here Sylva’s voice sank to a mysterious whisper, so that the text of her remarks was lost to me. A moment later there was a burst of laughter and Alice Pazanov (whose mouth was full of bread, although she appeared sublimely unconscious of the fact) went on shaking with feeble mirth until the tears ran down her cheeks, and her face became quite pale.

‘Ain’t it funny?’ she gasped between jerks; ‘sometimes — when I get laughin’ — I don’ seem able ever to stop!’

I went over to the group. Emmie Laws, a tall, dark-skinned girl with a weakness for rouge, made place for me on the bench.

‘You ain’t been here for some time,’ she said; and Sylva Timmons, fastening her sharp eyes on me, inquired, ‘You don’ have to work — do you?’

It is embarrassing for the conversation to take such a turn; it makes one feel, somehow, foolish and ashamed.

‘Not exactly,’ I stammered, ‘at least — not all the time.’

’Why do you come here anyways, then?’

’Because I like you, and want to know you better.’

‘Aw, now—’ said Emmie, slipping her hand into mine; and Sylva added shyly, ‘We sure miss you when you don’ come!’

‘I got to have an op’ration nex’ week,’ Miss Pazanov here remarked, calmly.

‘Why, Alice! I did n’t know you were ill — what’s the matter?’

‘My stomick,’— cheerfully — ‘don’ seem able to eat nothin’ without it don’ stay down.’

The whistle blew loudly. There was a general separating, and hastening to place. The great machinery began to revolve, slowly.

‘Good-bye, girls!’

‘Good-bye — Bye! — Bye, Miss Thayer! Come again — Bye!’

Ruth Donovan sidled past. ‘That was a grand book you left here, the other day,’ she said. ‘Shorty and me we read it together.’

‘What kind of books do you like best, Ruth?’

‘Oh — ’most anythin’ s ’long ’s it’s ’bout love — plenty of lovin’, an’ rich folks, an’ — an’ lovin’.’

I went down the four worn flights of stairs into the sunshine.

Never had the air felt more poignant and clean, never had the sky seemed more dazzlingly vast and blue. I took a long breath. How good it was to be outside — at last!

There is something quite suffocating about a factory.